The Holy Hijack

The fact that “all things work together for good” in Romans 8:28 flows from the answered prayers that, after the Holy Hijack, are all done in accordance with God’s will.

The Holy Hijack

You can’t live for long in Christian circles without someone quoting Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” – and for good reason. It’s a great verse filled with a massive truth that contributes to the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) and has provided encouragement to suffering Saints for nearly 2000 years. However…

That verse that is but one of 433 verses in the book of Romans and one of 31,100 verses in the Bible, and is also one part of a flow of thought that Paul has been building upon in his letter to the Roman church and comes on the heels of a section that describes what I’d like to refer to as “The Holy Hijack.” I realized for the first time today this divine requisition is related causally to the verses that follow. 

Let’s go back just a few more verses though to really set the stage. Paul begins Romans chapter eight by wrapping up a long discussion on the sinfulness of man, contrasting living by the Law versus the Spirit, and then concluding that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” As if that’s not good enough news, he then goes on in chapter eight to describe how Christians are adopted into the family of God and can therefore cry out to God as “Abba, Father” – indicating a deeply intimate relationship between humans and the holy God made possible by the work of Christ on the cross. However, Paul, not wanting to encourage what we call today “easy believism” or to deny the cost of following Christ, he includes a qualification in verses 16 and 17, which says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (emphasis mine). Paul then continues, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time [which meant sufferings that ranged from being disowned by family to being tortured and executed] are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (v.18) 

At this point, Paul describes how even the creation itself is suffering and groaning awaiting the day of redemption and how we and all creation together wait with patient hope for the promised glory to be revealed. Herein lies a key statement to our understanding of this passage: the creation was “subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him [this is God, who cursed the creation because of Adam’s sin] who subjected it in hope that the creation itself will be set free from it’s bondage and corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” [emphasis mine]. It is this hope of redemption that “helps” the creation wait patiently. Now, here comes the Holy Hijack.

In verse 26 we are told that the Holy Spirit “likewise” helps us in our weakness, and then states, rightly, that we don’t know how or what to pray, but that “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us … according to the will of God.” This is HUGE. Jesus tells us in the Gospels that we will receive whatever we pray in His name and according to His will; but, if you’re anything like me, I struggle in my weakness and futility to know what God’s will is. So, I pray anyway and, because I don’t know how or what to pray, the Holy Spirit – God Himself – hijacks my ignorant prayer and converts it into a prayer that is not only heard by the Father (v.27), but is now a prayer “according to God’s will” that will be answered. Now, enter the oft-quoted verse 28.

The fact that “all things work together for good” in verse 28 flows from the answered prayers that, after the Holy Hijack, are all done in accordance with God’s will. These prayers are answered by God, and because they align with God’s will, will result in the ultimate good for God’s adopted children and to the praise of God’s great glory! 

“But, what about our free will? What about human autonomy? What about…?” If you want to dwell on those questions and attempt to hold on to some level of control over your life, then do so knowing what you will be giving up: namely, the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” and the joy and freedom that comes from knowing and resting in the fact that all we have, all we are, and all we hope to be are from, for and through Christ alone. Even our prayers are subject to the intervention of our good and gracious God who is working to conform us “to the image of His Son,” which is the most ultimate “good” we could ever hope for. It’s this truth that can help us to suffer well, whether that suffering is for the name of Christ or simply a result of living in this cursed and groaning creation. The remainder of Romans 8 is such a fitting conclusion. Be blessed now by these words from God: 

“What shall we say then to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, no things present not things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Here are some resources related to this passage that offer some additional perspective:

Pain: a pathway to praise

For those who don’t know the Lord or believe in eternity, pain and suffering are the apex of human tragedy; for those whose trust is in the Lord, it’s a pathway to praise, encouragement and evangelism.

These past few months have been heavy. I’m not sure if there’s another single word that would adequately describe them since they have been such a mixture of difficulty and pain, yet also of joy and hope as God has continued to show Himself faithful and good through it all. Some of the challenges, like the chronic suffering of my wife, the death of my sister, and my son’s amputation have been “mine,” while others, like tragic losses, shattered marriages and ravaging sicknesses, have been “others’” and yet have weighed heavily on my heart as we “weep with those who weep” and walk through life with each other. 

Psalm 40 is such a beautiful reminder of how to process and respond to hardship in a way that brings glory to God – our ultimate purpose and source of joy in this life. In it David begins by expressing his dependence on the Lord, even when God seems not to hear, or delays His reply, saying, “I waited patiently for the LORD and He heard my cry.” In my wife’s case, she dealt with daily and debilitating pain for eight years before the Lord provided relief. You can bet she cried out to the Lord. Many of us cried out to the Lord on her behalf. Yet, in His providence He allowed nearly a decade of life-altering suffering to elapse before He drew her up from the miry bog. Patiently waiting is so very hard, but the lessons learned during that time, and then the hight of joy that follows suffering, are good gifts from a good Father. 

The Psalmist then declares that God put a new song in his mouth – a song that many would hear, and by it come to trust in the Lord. There are so many songs that exist, many of them in the Bible, that proclaim God’s mighty, miraculous, saving acts that have encouraged suffering saints and told of God’s character and deeds to lost people. If you don’t think you have musical or vocal ability, don’t despair! In verse nine David says, “I have told of the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation.” If you can’t sing it, say it! The point in this Psalm is to give public expression to God’s faithfulness and working in our lives. 

It may be that you, like many, don’t feel comfortable speaking to groups of people whether it be to a dozen folks at a Bible study or in front of hundreds of people on a Sunday morning. Pray that the Lord will help you not restrain your lips (v.9) and hide His deliverance within your heart (v.10). As verse five says, God has “multiplied … [His] wondrous deeds and [His] thoughts toward us” and thus we have the privilege to “proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.” Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the opportunity and courage to boldly share how God has saved and blessed you. Your testimony gives glory to God and encouragement to those around you. 

It may also be that you’re still in the midst of the “pit of destruction” and the only song on your heart right now is one of lament. Remember when it seems evils have encompassed you and your heart is failing (v.12), as David did, that God will not restrain His mercy from you, and His steadfast love and faithfulness will ever preserve you (v.11). Wait patiently on the Lord and remember, as verse four says, “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust,” and continue to pray verse 17 – “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.” Trust in the Good Shepherd to lead you through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and keep praying verse 13 – “Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me! O LORD, make haste to help me!”

The longer I have lived and the more people I have known, I have come to see that suffering and pain are a ubiquitous part of human existence. For those who don’t know the Lord or believe in eternity, pain and suffering are the apex of human tragedy; for those whose trust is in the Lord, it’s a pathway to praise, encouragement and evangelism. In other words, God gets the glory, fellows saints are reminded of God’s character and deeds, and some who do not yet trust in the Lord “…will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”

No matter where we are in our own process of deliverance, may we remember the words of Psalm 40, especially verse 16, which says, “But may all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; may those who love Your salvation say continually, ‘Great is the LORD!’”

The times they are a-changin’

By David A. Liapis

The first Sunday of this month also happened to be New Year’s Day, and the pastor selected Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 as one of the passages of Scripture to be read. It was a great reminder of the different times and seasons in which we find ourselves and how our focus, goals and priorities change with them. It was no different for Jesus Christ. For him there was a time to work and a time to rest; at time to be an obscure carpenter and a time to be revealed as the Messiah; a time be humiliated and a time to be glorified; at time to live and a time to die … and a time to be raised to life. 

In Matthew 12:46-50 it was a time to work. Jesus’ family was attempting to speak with him, but were unable to reach him because of the massive crowds that were gathered around his home seeking wisdom and healing. When told of his family’s request, Jesus asked, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” and then declared that all those who do the “will of my Father in heaven” are his “brother, sister and mother.” This response isn’t quite what I would have come up with when asking “What Would Jesus Do?” Rather, Jesus’ response seems indifferent and dismissive to his family – including the mother of our Lord, Mary, who will be blessed by “all generations.” Why is this?

Reading the parallel passage and surrounding verses in the Gospel of Mark is helpful in understanding what has been going on in this early part of Jesus’ booming ministry. In the short time (a few months to a year) since Jesus began his public ministry, he had been baptized by John, tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days, traveled the region healing many diseases and casting out many demons, called and commissioned disciples, had his roof torn apart by men desperate for their friend to be healed, been nearly crushed by huge crowds seeking healing, enraged the religious elite by healing on the Sabbath, and chose serving over sleeping, eating and visiting with his blood relatives. In fact, in Mark 3:21, it says that his family was saying, “He is out of his mind” because of all that he was doing and enduring. Jesus, out of his mind? Could God incarnate ever be out of his mind? His family had clearly not yet fully grasped who Jesus was and what his ultimate purpose was for being on Earth.  

Jesus had his priorities, the first of which, of course, was to “do the will of the Father,” whatever that looked like and at whatever cost necessary, up to and including being obedient “to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus’ public ministry was only about three years long, and he had much to do in that time. So, why the urgency from his family to interrupt his ministry? Was it because they were genuinely concerned about him and wanted to try to get him some food and rest? Was it to protect him (and them?) from him saying and doing more to incur the wrath of the Jewish leaders? It would be unfair and unwise to speculate too much as to why his family was so intent on gaining an audience with him (though we do know at that time his brothers were at best skeptics, and at worst antagonistic towards him and his new line of work). 

Jesus revealed two things in this interaction: 1. Doing the will of the Father is more important than anything, even our lives (see Mark 8:34-37). 2. The family of God is superior even to blood relations (see Matthew 22:37-38, Mark 10:29-31 and Galatians 6:10). What are the takeaways for us? Jesus gives us the answer when he says we must love him more than mother, father, son or daughter; and that we must die to ourselves, or in other words we must submit our will to that of the Father no matter the cost. Loving and obeying God must be our first priority, no matter what time or season we’re in, and that will undoubtably look different as the times and seasons change. We need to pray for the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom to know what God’s will is for us in every season of our lives, as well as to discern when the times change. We need God’s wisdom, for example, to know when to be silent and when to speak when it comes to engaging cultural and political issues – when to be a Daniel, and when to be a John the Baptist. 

There is a time for everything, and that might mean, like Job, a time of plenty, comfort and ease, but then also a time of loss, grief and pain. It might mean a time to be humiliated or even persecuted, or a time of abundance or a time of privation – and those times may be days, months, years or a lifetime. However, we can endure all things because we know that at the end time itself there is the promise of being in the presence of the Father, Son and whole family of God forever. Jesus knew this, and the writer of Hebrews tells us that “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God.” If that joy was enough to motive Jesus to endure the suffering of the cross – the climax of which was God pouring out his wrath upon him and forsaking him – then that joy should be more than sufficient to enable us to endure whatever time we are in, and also to be willing to forsake whatever earthly relationships and pleasures necessary in order for us to accomplish the Father’s will. 

I can’t believe

By David A. Liapis

I can’t believe in Jesus Christ. I just can’t. In my human, rational mind I cannot conceive of a supernatural God-Man who was born of a virgin, lived without ever sinning – not even a small lie or selfish thought – and then came back to life after being executed on a Roman cross. Then, I’m supposed to believe this God-Man is in heaven right now (which I cannot verify by any human means) and will someday come back and judge the living and the dead – which means everyone who ever died will come back to life and all stand before him. How does that work? What about the people who have decomposed, been incinerated or blown to bits? Does everyone just re-materialize, or is there some soul or spirit that’s part of the equation? Nope. I can’t believe in Jesus Christ … at least not on my own. 

In Matthew 12:38-42, we encounter two examples of unbelief versus belief – the people of Nineveh vs. the Jews of Jesus’ day and “the queen of the south” who came to hear Solomon vs. Jews of Jesus’ day. In both cases a contrast was made showing that the Ninevites and the queen of Sheba (as we know from 1 Kings 10) demonstrated belief in something, which, in both cases, was something less that the very “Son of Man” who was standing in front of the Jews and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and who claimed to be their long-awaited Messiah (whom they rejected). 

Then, in Matthew 12:43-45 we encounter an example of sort of false or incomplete belief. This is a bit less straightforward, but it seems to mean in Jesus’ story that a person had an evil spirit cast out of of them, and then, presumably, they exercised some level of believe in the power of the person who freed them from being demon possessed (a ministry which Jesus had been performing), but that it was not a real, abiding faith. The result was they got their life “put in order” but they were devoid of the Holy Spirit of God, and thus the demon returned with “seven other spirits more evil than itself” and then that person was worse off than before. 

Now, back to my statement that I cannot believe in Jesus Christ on my own, much like the Jews who listened to and observed Jesus didn’t believe in him. In my last post I highlighted how God has to give us a new heart in order for us to bear good fruit, but that is actually out of order in relation to what is being discussed here. Before fruit there is faith; and faith, like a heart of flesh that can know and love God, is a gift from God and is requisite for belief – true belief – in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Apart from the unmerited gift of faith being given by God to us, we cannot believe. We will not believe. The Bible says we are blind, deaf, foolish, ignorant, and ultimately spiritually dead, so of course we will not and cannot believe. Our salvation is wholly dependent on God to make us alive, seeing, hearing, knowing and believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, through whom we are able to be reconciled to a holy and just God. 

Choose a side

By David A. Liapis

In an era Cancel Culture and massive overflow of words (particularly on social media platforms) colliding to wreck relationships, employment and reputations, it seems the concept of everyone having to “give an account for every careless word they speak” is readily embraced. Jesus concludes that statement from Matthew 12 saying, “for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Sounds about right. Say something that goes against what is acceptable, and wham! Next thing you know you’re being ousted from your job, your platform, your position, etc. Canceled. However, when we look at all the people being “condemned” for what they have said, whether 40 minutes, 40 years or even 240 years ago what we’re seeing is harsh judgement being pronounced by a fickle and merciless court of public opinion (CPO). A terrifying example of this is if I got on national TV and said just twenty years ago that cross-dressing men all over the nation should be allowed frequent and taxpayer-funded interactions with small children in a thinly veiled attempt to normalize deviant sexual behaviors and lifestyles, I would have been condemned and punished by the CPO – and rightly so! However, today, I run the risk of being summarily condemned (bring it on!) for saying these predators should be at the very least prevented from any contact whatsoever with our vulnerable children, if not arrested and incarcerated, and that those who have allowed them access to our kids should also be punished. In the course of two decades, the “laws” of the CPO have changed drastically, and what was evil is now called good, and what is good is now called evil (sounds like Isaiah 5:20 … and woe to us!)  

However, the Judge Of The World (JOTW) is not like the CPO. He does not change, nor do His laws. What has always been good is still good and will always be good, and the same is true for evil. Furthermore, Jesus has some words for those who only pretend to be on the “good” side. He says, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad … How can you speak good when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (emphasis mine). We are told by our culture to “follow your heart,” and, in a way, that’s what Jesus is saying to do – but not to achieve self-actualization or inner peace. Rather, this is a call for those who are evil to be honest about it, and for those who know and love Him to set themselves apart. In other words, to be holy. In the context of Matthew 12, Jesus was confronting the religious leaders of the day who were fakes, a “brood of vipers” as he called them, but this concept applies to all of us. If we give vent to our hearts, what is going to come out of our mouths? Will our “trees” be shown to be good or evil and by whose definition? 

The CPO wields an inordinate amount of power over us, and we have to ask ourselves, “Do I care more about the CPO, or about the opinion of the JOTW?” We see the headlines of yet another person being ruined for something they said that crossed the ever-moving lines vigilantly policed by the ruthless and violent CPO, so it’s easy to do what we can to bend and maneuver with our words and stances in order to appear to bear the kind of fruit the CPO is demanding of us. However, given the fact that Jesus said “On the day of judgment people will give an account…” we should be far more concerned with making sure the fruit we’re bearing is the kind the JOTW calls “good.” 

There are three significant takeaways from this punchy paragraph of Scripture:

1. There is indeed “good” and “evil” fruit (as defined by God, not the CPO)

2. We can only bear one or the other

3. We will be justified or condemned on the final judgement day by the JOTW

Therefore, it really matters – eternally – if our heart is full of good or evil, and what comes out of us will reveal which one it is (verse 34). Of course, the only way for our hearts to be truly good is for them to be changed by the power God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The prophet Jeremiah talks about how God is the one who takes out our evil hearts of stone and puts within us good hearts of flesh that are alive in Christ. If you have a “good” heart, pray the Lord will fill you with joy, hope and boldness to make your heart overflow with good fruit to the glory of God and the benefit of your neighbors. If you don’t yet have a good heart (by God’s standard), then pray for Him to give you a good heart so you, too, can bring Him glory both now and forever. 

Satan Speaks

By David A. Liapis

If you were attempting to single-handedly discredit and depose a king you wished to replace (with yourself), what would you say, and to whom, in order to accomplish your goal? If an article were written recounting the things you said, either in conversations with the king or his subjects, what quotes would make it to press? What elements of the king’s policies or character would you attack?

We can read in the two oldest books of the Bible about someone who was (and is) trying to accomplish such a goal, and Genesis and Job (of which Job is considered by most scholars to be the oldest) we can learn very quickly what the “Adversary” (that’s what “Satan” means in Hebrew) deems to be the most important aspects of his enemy to attack. In the military we use the term “Centers of Gravity,” or “COGs,” to describe targets that are high on the priority list because they are significant to the survival of the enemy’s military and population, such as nuclear sites and capabilities, infrastructure and networks. So, what does Satan see at God’s COGs?

The first deliberate attack comes in the Garden of Eden where Satan attacks God’s character, specifically His goodness and trustworthiness. Satan does this by telling Adam and Eve that God was only withholding the fruit from the “tree in the middle of the garden” because He knew His creation would gain knowledge from eating it. In other words, Satan said, “This God of yours is trying to keep you ignorant and limited. How can He possibly be good?”

At some point later in the narrative of man’s history “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1) After describing Job, the author of this ancient book gives us a glimpse into the spiritual, heavenly realm where some of God’s created beings, to include Satan, were presenting themselves before the LORD. When asked by the Almighty where he had been and what he had been up to, Satan replied, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” While this may not seem like much of a statement at first, think about what God used to do amongst His perfect creation in Eden before the Fall of Man – He walked to and fro on the earth, enjoying fellowship with His creation, which Satan had since defiled. In other words, this is Satan attacking God’s authority and power. It’s as if Satan was saying, “Hey, God, remember that beautiful creation you used to enjoy walking in? Well, it’s mine now.”

The final COG of God’s that I will highlight here is the very Gospel of Jesus Christ. After God grants Satan permission to torment and test Job (there was basically a bet between them about whether or not Job would curse God if all his health, wealth and prosperity were taken from him), some of Job’s friends come to mourn with him. After a week of silence together, Eliphaz speaks in Job chapter four, and part of his discourse includes a description of a vision of a “spirit” that spoke to him. It’s clear from what the spirit said it was not from God. In fact, I believe it was none other than the Adversary himself, and do you know what the very first thing he did was? Attack the Gospel. He said, “Can a mortal man be right before God? Can a man be pure before his maker?” Long before Jesus was hung on a cross and died to atone for the sins of His creation, Satan was attacking the whole premise of the Gospel – that a man can in fact be made right and pure before his maker, not because of his own righteousness, but because of what the “snake crusher” – Jesus Christ – has done. If you any doubt this “spirit” was Satan, look at what he goes on to say in the following verse: “Even in his servants He puts no trust, and his angels He charges with error; how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is dust, who are crushed like the moth.” (vv18-19) This was spoken by the chief angel who was “charged with error” and cast out of heaven – Lucifer himself. 

As much power as Satan may be granted (for a time), we know especially from Job that he can only act within the scope of what God allows. He knows this, too, yet he will continue to attack God’s character, laws and Gospel until he is finally and completely vanquished in the Lake of Fire at the end of the age. Don’t be fooled or discouraged! Trust always in the goodness and trustworthiness of God and in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is our only hope in life and death! Job suffered greatly at the hands of the Adversary (yet, with the permission of God) and did not curse God, but worshiped Him and said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” May we also trust in the unfailing goodness and sovereignty of God, even, and especially, when the skies darken and it seems the pain we’re experiencing is pointless and endless. We must cling to the hope God is in fact “working all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” and will help us see and rejoice in this “good” in this life and/or the next. In the meantime, may the cry of our hearts be, “Come, Lord Jesus! Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Providential Disobedience?

By David A. Liapis

Does God use our disobedience to accomplish His will? There are many ick-sticky implications and theological crises involved with this question such as: Does God form or alter His will around our sinful choices, or are our sinful choices part of God’s will? If the former, does that mean God is not all-knowing (omniscient) or all-powerful (omnipotent) since He is reacting to our choices? If the latter, does that mean God causes us to sin in order to follow His plan, and if so, then doesn’t that contradict the Bible when it says God does not temp us (James 1:13)? What does the Bible in fact say about all this? Well, I promise you I cannot come close to addressing all the hard questions or to providing crystal clear answers in a single blog post (or in a hundred books, since I’m not that smart!). However, I will attempt to use one segment of Scripture to at least provide some of what I have found to be helpful in understanding (or, at least accepting) how our disobedience (sin) interplays with God’s sovereign will.

Though the Bible consists of 66 separate books written by 40-ish human authors (but, also only one Divine Author) over a span of roughly 1,500 years, there are common themes and major stories within its metanarrative of “creation-fall-redemption-new creation.” One major story is of the chosen people of God – Israel – and their formation, slavery, escape (or exodus), conquest, growth, kingdom, failing (idolatry, disobedience, etc.), exile and restoration. There are many actors, many plot twists, and many lessons to be learned from this human/divine interaction between a rebellious people and a God who said of Himself that He is a “God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

God showed Himself faithful and loving to His special people in spite of their grumbling in the Arabian desert for 40 years, their failure to cleanse the Promised Land of all its wicked inhabitants, then their “whoring” after the false gods of those same people, then tolerating and eventually celebrating vile sexual perversion (sound familiar?), and more! This eventually culminated in the overthrow of Israel and Judah (the kingdom was split after King Solomon), which included the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews to Assyria and Babylonia – all part of God’s judgement on His people for their sins. God spoke to His people over and over again through His prophets, calling them to repentance and warming them of their impending doom if they did not. He also promised the land of Israel would be given 70 years of rest, at which point He would restore His people to the land He had given them. 

You can read all about the fall and destruction of Jerusalem, the exile (to include intra-exile books like Esther, Daniel, Ezra and some of the other prophets), and the return of the people to rebuild the temple, and you’ll find that from the year of the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. to the completion of the new, but much less splendid temple in 516 B.C. was in fact 70 years, just as God said it would be. What’s interesting though is that the Jews who returned to Jerusalem with the blessing and funding of King Cyrus of Persia (whom Isaiah prophesied of by name nearly 200 years prior in Isaiah 44 and 45), when confronted with opposition from the people who had come to inhabit the land during the exile, stopped rebuilding the temple for 15 years (Ezra 4:24). That was 15 years of the 70 that God decreed for the punishment of His people’s sin. Fifteen years that God had known his people would disobediently stop work that He providentially wove into the long-foretold timeline. Fifteen years that cause give us pause to consider how human action relates to the accuracy of prophesy and timelines and how God makes all things come to pass exactly as He says they will regardless of the circumstances. 

Of course, there are other actors and storylines within the Bible where we see other instances of sinful choices playing integral roles in the fulfillment of prophecy, such as with King Herod’s decree to kill all infant boys that drove Mary, Joseph and Jesus into Egypt (see Matthew 2:15); or Judas Iscariot and his prophesied betrayal of Jesus (see Matthew 26:24); and even the actions of the Jews crying out for the crucifixion of Jesus and the Romans who acquiesced, bringing to pass a plan hatched by God before the creation of the world (1 Peter 1 and Revelation 13). While these passages make it clear God has so chosen to weave sinful actions into His overall plan, we still have to wrestle with the question of whether or not God is the cause of these sinful actions, whether proximate or remote. This is a tough question that requires much more explanation than I can cover here. However, here’s a great resource that does cover a lot of the nuances and semantics: What I will say is that I see these 15 years (and the other instances mentioned above) God – the Author of all life, faith and the metanarrative in which all people have and will ever live – in His omniscience and omnipotence choosing to use even our sinful choices to bring about His ultimate plan. 

I find this so encouraging because it proves God can, and will, fulfill His promise in Romans 8:28 to “work all things together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.” This means my sinful actions, and even their consequences, can and will be turned for my ultimate good – which is to be “conformed to the image of Christ,” not that everything always goes my way and that I am healthy, wealthy and comfortable. God knew long before He sent the Jews into exile that they would disobey Him and stop work on the temple, and He built that into the timeline. God also knew Adam and Eve would sin in the Garden of Eden and that all mankind would be doomed. Could God have prevented these sins and their consequences? Sure, but He didn’t. He ordained that He Himself, the God of all Creation, would come into His creation as the Son of Man – Jesus Christ – and suffer and die to make atonement for the sins he knew we would commit.

Some will point out that I have not addressed the “freewill of man” or the importance of human autonomy. True, I have not, though it’s certainly part of this discussion. However, I believe therein lies a mystery we have to accept by faith. Somehow God is completely sovereign over all things, does not “tempt” us to sin, and clearly is at least the “remote cause” of what we would define as “evil;” and yet, we make choices and are culpable for them, and God is holy, just and “in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). 

Here’s what it all comes down to, at least as far as I can understand: I can rest in the fact God has shown in multiple instances that He has providentially woven even our disobedience into His plans, and that all things will come to pass as He ordains. I can’t understand everything about God, but what I can understand and know from His Word is that He is faithful, good, and has saved me by the blood of Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glory and that I will be forever with the Lord when I die or He returns to gather His people to himself. 

The Go(o)d Shepherd

By David A. Liapis

Finding Jesus in the Old Testament

When Jesus told the Jews repeatedly in John chapter 10 that He is the “Good Shepherd,” He was not just making a nice statement about His character using a pastoral (in both senses of the word) analogy. He was’t just contrasting Himself with the religious leaders of the time whom He called “blind guides” and who neglected their duty to faithfully lead the people – to the point of evoking compassion from the heart of Christ when He looked at the Jews who were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

If you’ve read much of the Bible at all, you probably know this shepherd/sheep theme runs throughout from the Law to the Psalms to the Prophets to the Gospels and even to Revelation – so, basically the whole book. In order to more fully comprehend what Jesus was saying in John chapter 10, we need find Jesus in the Old Testament. In this instance, Ezekiel 34 will do much to illuminate not only John 10, but also many of the passages in the New Testament that refer to Jesus as a shepherd, or us, His people, as sheep.

To sum up Ezekiel 34 in a few sentences, God is basically condemning the leaders, or “shepherds,” of Israel because rather than feeding and caring for the sheep, they have been killing and neglecting them. They were treating the sheep harshly and failing to seek and save the lost. Because of this gross neglect and abuse, God says in verse 10, “I am against the shepherds … I will rescue my sheep from their mouths.” He goes on to say in the subsequent verses that He, God Himself, will seek, rescue, gather, feed, protect and bless His sheep. He will “feed them with justice” and “make them lie down” and “dwell securely.” 

Why does God do all this for His sheep? So that “…they shall know that I am the LORD [Yahweh] their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.” (vv. 30-31) There are two things to note in these verses. The first is that God intends for us to know Him by means of His all His shepherdly care and blessings. The second is that we can find Jesus not only in this whole chapter, but even right here in this verse where it says “…God with them,..” That’s Emmanuel – God With Us! 

The final point I want to make about Ezekiel 34 and all the references in the New Testament about Jesus being the Good Shepherd is that when Jesus called Himself such, he was saying unequivocally that He is God. The “Lord God” is the “God” shepherd in Ezekiel who will “seek, rescue, gather, feed, protect and bless His sheep” as stated above, and we see Jesus Christ fulfilling every single one of these things and more when He came to Earth as Emmanuel. There are some who try to argue Jesus never claimed to be God. These passages, and so many others, so easily refute that argument and give us all the more reason to know and believe that Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who is worthy of unending praise, and yet He is also the Go(o)d Shepherd who lays down His own life for His sheep. 

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Therd oval

Lyre, lyre

By David A. Liapis

We need more lyres in church. Sort of.

When I was 15 years old, I was both a baby Christian and novice guitarist. In spite of both those factors, I was allowed by the music director at our church to sit in with the praise team during practices. I eventually got to start playing on Sunday mornings even if it was just the most basic chord strumming. I remember a particular time when the pastor commented after a service that he noticed I had been able to play a chord progression I had, in my inexperience, been struggling to play. He probably never thought that his quick word of encouragement would inspire me to continue honing my guitar playing skills and using what I learned there to serve in multiple churches over the years. He could have said nothing, or he could have asked his wife (a.k.a. the music director) to not include me on the praise team until I was more skilled and mature.

Fast forward twenty years to when my family and I moved to Florida. During a conversation with the music director at the church there we ended up attending there, I was asked if I played any instruments. I replied, “Guitar, and some piano.” He asked, half jokingly, “So, bass guitar?” I clarified, “Guitar and piano.” He again replied, “Right. So, bass then? I’ve got one you can borrow.” They needed a bass more than any other instrument, so, I learned bass kicking and screaming, but I helped fill a need rather than insisting on doing what I thought I was equipped (and wanting) to do. Bass wasn’t my favorite instrument to play, though it has grown on me since then.

What’s the point of all this? Two things: First, we have both current and future need of musicians not just in my current church, but in other churches all over world … and for the foreseeable future. The second is to never underestimate the power of an encouraging word. There are a handful of moments I can point to in my life where someone spoke a word to encourage, rebuke or instruct me that had what may seem a disproportionally profound impact on my growth as a person and a Believer.

If you are a musician currently, even a novice, who isn’t using your abilities to serve the body of Christ, find the right person to talk to in your church and see how and when you can exercise your talents. Maybe you already know how to play an instrument or two, but there’s a need to learn another. Don’t be resistant like I was. Or, maybe you don’t know how to play even a kazoo, but want to play something someday. Again, find the right person and have a conversation. Maybe your church has a “loaner” guitar or cajon sitting in some closet behind the stage just waiting to be played, or, as in my experience, someone has a bass guitar rotting in a case at home that you can borrow. However it comes about, see how you can get started whether you’re five or 50 years old. It may be that you don’t actually play in a church service for five, 10 or even 20 years. Not to worry! You can be a blessing to a congregation or other gathering and honor the Lord with your talents when the time is right.

The thing is, we can train children’s ministry workers, greeters and coffee brewers in a matter of days or weeks, but not so with musicians (though, in no way am I diminishing the importance of any of those roles … especially the coffee). Because of my job, my family and I have moved many times in the past couple decades, and thus we have attended many churches. The one consistent theme amongst all of them (other than the Gospel, of course) was the need for musicians. Sadly, musicianship has been on the decline in America for years, and it’s no different in our churches.

“Why not just sing a cappella if we don’t have sufficient instrumentalists?” Well, I’m glad you asked.

Isaiah 38:20 says, “The Lord will save me, and we will play my music on stringed instruments,” and in 2 Chronicles 29:25 when the people of Judah were repenting of their failure to worship God as they should have been, it says, “And (Hezekiah) stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres … for the commandment was from the Lord through His prophets.” If you do a simple word search for “instruments” in the Bible you’ll find there are plenty of other passages that also make it clear lutes, harps, lyres, cymbals, trumpets, etc. are an important part of our worship of the Lord. That’s why we as the Church need to encourage the right people who possess musical abilities currently to start playing today, and to cultivate musicians who will play months and years from now. Notice how I said “the right people.” Yes, being qualified to play in church takes more than just the ability to make good noises with an instrument. There are also character qualifications, particularly that they are a Believer (since, after all, unbelievers can’t lead in worshiping a Savior they don’t believe in); and no, wearing skinny jeans and flannel shirts is not a prerequisite.

So, on that note (see what I did there?), pray and ask if God might be prompting you to either contribute a talent you already have, or develop one you can contribute in the future. If you’re a parent and have a child who expresses interest in playing an instrument, consider how you might be able to cultivate that. Yes, purchasing instruments and paying for lessons will cost you something (though the online used instrument market and YouTube lessons are alive and well), it’s an investment in both your child and, if they use it to minister, the Kingdom of God.

Psalm of the Plateau

By David A. Liapis

A tribute to the forgotten

Land of our fathers yielding life to each of those who stops to listen

Who learn the lay, the giving, the rhythms of the expanse we’ve been given

Water to water, spring to spring, season to season, gathering what each brings

They have come from afar, from palaces of marble and glass, prescribing a new way

Promising more, but providing less, showing us a different life, assigning places we must stay

Taking our land and distributing to another, gone, along with the ways of our fathers

You remember us now only in names, of cities, rivers and plains

Yet it was we who roved the land, with whom we were one

We who revered, nurtured, harmonized and carried on and handed down legacies

Where are we now? In palaces of pleasure and cash, our heritage drifting away as ash

Land of new horizons, yielding life to those who till, sow and reap

Scattering seed, praying for rain, for health, for fortune and for good sleep

Day to day, paycheck to paycheck, week to week, scarcely making ends meet

They have come with plans, dams, culverts and canals, offering some of us a new way

Promising better, but preserving less, redirecting mighty waters, the face of the land must pay

Making our land more productive for some, options, but only for those willing to buy in

You benefit from our produce every day, but never give us another thought

Yet it was we who worked the land, land we learned to dominate

We who tilled, cultivated, fertilized and send along food for our countrymen

Where are we now? In weathered doublewides, our children leaving our sides

Land of the forgotten, often misrepresented and often misunderstood

Submitting to control from over the mountains and from across the nation

Year to year, ballot to ballot, election to election, scarcely believing we have a voice

Promising more, but providing less, changing laws, morals, culture and redefining words

Making life better for some, not others, only those who let go of all that once defined us

You may not benefit from our produce for long, taxes and laws drive our children away

Yet it was we who worked the land, land we hoped to pass on for generations

We who pinched, saved, economized and still have nothing left to give

Where are we now? Looking at lands far away, where freedom still rings